The Loss of a Legend – John Prine by Laurie Schultz
The COVID-19 epidemic has cost us so many lives. Our family is fortunate that no one in our acquaintance has suffered from the virus, but daily news reports bring us loss after loss. From the music world, we mourn Ellis Marsalis, Jr., Bill Withers and countless others. When we heard the news about folk musician John Prine, my husband exclaimed, “This hurts like losing someone in my own family.”
Often considered to be as talented as Bob Dylan by contemporaries and critics, and MORE talented by some (like us!), Prine won numerous nominations and awards for his poignant, often humorous, lyrics and distinctive, gravelly voice. Before succumbing to complications from the virus, Prine had previously survived both throat and lung cancer. When his radiologist informed him he would make a shield to protect his vocal chords, he replied, “Have you ever heard me sing?”
Prine’s fans all have their favorites, and you’ll find most of them on Hoopla. Also, I found a few songs I wasn’t familiar with, such as the songs from Pink Cadillac. His first album, John Prine, is on Hoopla and includes several favorites of mine. “Hello in There” chokes me up whenever I hear it, or even read the lyrics. It is particularly suited to today’s crisis as it brings home the loneliness of isolation. Before becoming a recording artist, Prine was a mailman who delivered to many lonely older people, often being their only contact with the outside world.
You know that old trees just grow stronger, And old rivers grow wilder every day. Old people just grow lonesome Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."
Also, on that album, one of his more political songs, "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore," strikes as much of a chord today as it did during the Vietnam War. He manages to slip in a little humor:
And I stuck them stickers all over my car And one on my wife's forehead.
The entire album is unforgettable, with songs like “Sam Stone,” exposing the pain of drug abuse, and the environmentalists’ theme song, “Paradise,” which describes his family’s Kentucky home. Some of his ashes will be scattered there by his wife, according to his wishes:
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waitin' Just five miles away from wherever I am.
There are 18 selections on Hoopla of John Prine’s albums and recordings with other artists.
If you like John Prine’s music, I would recommend also listening to Steve Goodman and Todd Snider.
A week before his death, Stephen Colbert shared a duet he did with John in 2016. Before they sang, Colbert prophetically stated that the performance would be for the internet unless, “something terrible happens and we have to cheer up the world on the TV Show.” I hope this cheers you up!